Not heroine. Hero, period. While it’s rad that Ellen Ripley happens to be a woman, that doesn’t at all impact her level of badassery—though it does inform her character in ways that make her much more interesting than virtually any other cinematic hero. She’s complicated, she feels real, and I have total confidence the Alien movies would not have become classics without her.
When we first meet Ripley, she’s just an ordinary person with a job to do. She’s not in charge of the Nostromo, but she has a certain amount of authority as warrant officer, a job that she clearly takes pride in. When crew member Kane has his much-too-close encounter with a Facehugger, Ripley is the voice of reason, reminding everyone about the necessary quarantine period. When she’s undermined, first by Dallas (who orders her to disobey the rules) and then by Ash (who pops open the door, since he has secret motivations of his own), she’s pissed. But she’s still a team player. She cares about Kane and while she doesn’t forget the slight, she rolls past it in the interest of tackling the next crisis at hand.
That incident—which obviously ends up proving Ripley so completely right, because of course you should not let that guy with a damn alien clamped to his face onto the ship—moves the plot forward into horror movie territory, but it also illustrates the level of human (artificial and otherwise) bullshit Ripley has to put up with on a regular basis. Obviously fighting the alien is the flashier way of demonstrating one’s heroism, and Ripley does that capably using a variety of tactics. But her employer and some of her co-workers are the other monsters in the Alien movies. Imagine going through all of the events of Alien, only to wake up decades later in Aliens, surrounded by a snooty, dismissive panel of corporate superiors who flat-out don’t believe your story. Burke, Paul Reiser’s sleazeball company-man character in the sequel, is arguably the biggest menace in a movie that still features a giant alien queen that oversees the annihilation of an entire space colony and the deaths of multiple Colonial Marines.
Somehow, Ripley is able to get through the movie without strangling Burke, even though his behavior endangers not just the crew, but also potentially the entire human race if he’s able to carry out his plan of bringing alien specimens back home. And Burke isn’t the only idiot-with-power that Ripley has to contend with in Aliens. Lt. Gorman puts the whole team at risk when he proves incapable of making quick decisions when things are shitty. Meanwhile, Ripley is capable and cool-headed in nearly every situation, to the point where she just takes charge when the Marines’ initial investigation into the lost colony at LV-426 suddenly becomes a bloodbath. She knows when to follow the rules, but also when to break them, that sometimes you have to disobey an inexperienced leader, and most importantly, what’s…